Extreme weather can take its toll on any vehicle, and we can take freezing cold temperatures as the perfect example. The second that mercury drops below zero, your car can suffer from some debilitating problems that can be solved with lots of effort and preparation. So, windshields and wiper fluid tend to freeze over, as do doors, rearview mirrors, and even wheels. But what about gasoline?
Interestingly, lots of people who don’t live in low-temperature areas tend to ask me about frozen gasoline. More often than not, they ask me that because they’re getting ready to visit friends and family who live in states where winters can get insanely cold. For example, Minnesota is notorious for its freezing temperatures, so much so that the chill takes mere minutes to freeze an egg solid.
Now, I ought to stress that you shouldn’t worry about the gas getting frozen solid, and I’ll shortly get into it in greater detail. However, the cold can still cause you fuel-related problems, so this text will also focus on how to handle them and how to keep your car running properly during cold winters.
Finding Gasoline’s Freezing Point
Automobile experts have already covered this topic in some detail, so I’ll mainly cover the basics. In short, gasoline can freeze, but the temperature has to be extremely low for that to happen. The rough estimate is -100℉ or -73℃ for most fuels, with the lowest point being -200℉ or -93℃. Do bear in mind that the average temperature on Antarctica is -76℉ or -60℃. In other words, if you want to worry about your gas tank being frozen solid on the inside, you’d have to drive a car that’s on Antarctica and is somehow able to scale their highest and coldest peaks.
Of course, gasoline does react to extreme cold in different ways. For example, while it doesn’t freeze, it does turn into a gel at -100℉ (-73℃). Some of its components separate from the gel and form a liquid. Either way, the gasoline isn’t frozen, but it does pose a problem when it’s in your tank in that gel-like state.
The reason gasoline doesn’t freeze up as quickly as some other liquids is its chemical makeup. In fact, various types of gas will react to the cold in completely different ways.
Issues With Gasoline in Freezing Temperatures
As I stated earlier, you definitely don’t have to worry about gasoline freezing solid during winter while it’s in your fuel tank. However, there are definitely other fuel-related problems that can arise and that you should look out for.
For instance, gasoline tends to contain alcohol, which prevents condensation of water vapor in the fuel tank. However, in cold weather, if you don’t have enough alcohol in gasoline, some water vapor will condense and start freezing. When that happens, the ice can block off the fuel line and no gasoline can reach the combustion chambers of your engine. When that happens, you’ll be lucky if you can even manage to start your car properly.
Next, there’s the issue of viscosity. When fluids like pancake syrup or oil get cold, they become thicker and more viscous than before, which makes them flow more slowly. Gasoline doesn’t get as thick as oil that quickly and you can still drive with it being thicker than before. However, thick gas will put a lot of pressure on your car’s fuel pump and the harder it works, the faster it will wear out, and that’s something you don’t want during extreme wintertime.
Finally, we should cover gelling; as I mentioned before, gasoline (as well as diesel, oil, and other liquids) react to extreme cold by turning into a gel, with some of the liquid still remaining unfrozen. And while the liquid portion will manage to reach your fuel tank, the solid gel portion will remain where it is. And since both the solid and liquid parts of “frozen” gasoline take up space in the fuel tank, your fuel gauge can erroneously let you know that your tank is full. In reality, it isn’t, or at least it doesn’t contain proper liquid fuel.
How Do I Recognize a Frozen Fuel Line?
I should note that the fuel line can be blocked, but never completely frozen. Partial blockage is still a problem and there are ways you can tell that this is happening to your car. All you need to do is pay attention to the appearance of these symptoms:
- The engine isn’t starting at all during cold weather
- If it does start, it doesn’t turn over completely
- The car cuts or sputters during your drive
Naturally, the best solution is to warm the car up and to always keep a supply of room-temperature gasoline.
Where and How Do I Store Gasoline During Winter?
Storing gasoline properly can prevent evaporation as well as any outside elements from entering it. If you’re in the middle of a harsh winter, a garage might not be the best storage solution unless you have a decent source of heat. And obviously, you can’t keep fuel in your own home, since it will evaporate toxic fumes. More importantly, those fumes are flammable and you’ll be one matchstick flick away from an explosion or a fire.
The best solution for your fuel storage conundrum is using a fuel stabilizer. Not only will it help your fuel stay liquid during harsh weather, even if it is sitting in a cold garage, but it’ll keep the gas from evaporating or forming sticky resin which ruins the carburetor. With fuel stabilizers, you can place your fuel canisters pretty much anywhere.
Preventing Car Issues Related to the Cold
In 2020, we have various types of gasoline for different types of vehicles and the manufacturers understand the problem of fuel gelling very well. That’s why you will generally find gasoline with certain additives that prevent the cold from impacting the fuel.
However, it’s still a good idea to look into some tips and tricks to maintaining a good drive in cold temperatures. Here’s my very own handy list that I think you’ll find helpful:
- Warm your engine up; this process is quite simple — start the ignition and let the car idle for a few minutes before taking off
- If possible, keep your fuel tank over half-full; quarter-full is the lower limit and you should never go below it
- Driving the car frequently; it might sound bizarre to do this in wintertime, but driving around every now and again will keep the fuel flowing
- Fuel stabilizers; aside from storage, you should also use them before a drive to prevent any coagulation. If possible, add the stabilizer before you fill the tank up with gas, so that the two can mix evenly
A Few Final Thoughts
Indeed, frozen gasoline is definitely not something that can happen to any driver. However, it’s always a good idea to take extra precautions during extreme wintertime. Any number of frost-related issues can damage your car and you can avoid costly repairs by simply being observant and keeping your car warm.
I hope this article helped you understand the fine points of freezing and gasoline in general. If you feel like I’ve missed something, let me know down in the comment section.